Austin – The House Transportation Committee has voted to send legislation to set a statewide ban on texting while driving to the full House of Representatives for action.
House Bill 80 by Rep. Tom Craddick, R-Midland, was sent to the House Calendars Committee to be considered for floor debate.
HB 80 joint authors include Reps. Byron Cook, R-Corsicana; Patricia Harless, R-Spring; Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, and Gene Wu, D-Houston.
As introduced, HB 80 would make it a misdemeanor – punishable by a fine of not more than $99 for a first offense or $200 if the offender has been previously convicted for the same offense – to use a hand-held device to read, write, or send a text-based communication while operating a moving vehicle.
A companion bill, Senate Bill 25, has been filed by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo. At a March 5 committee hearing, several family members of victims of texting while driving accidents testified in favor of the bill, known as the “Alex Brown Memorial Act.”
Jeanne Brown pleaded with the committee to pass the bill named after her daughter, a Seagraves High School senior, to spare other Texas families from enduring the grief she has experienced.
Dallas resident, Krista Tankersley told the committee about her brother, Jeff, an Amarillo lawyer and Ironman competitor who was cycling last summer when he was struck by a distracted driver.
Troy Abrams spoke about the loss of his six-year-old son, Brandon, who was struck by a distracted driver while the boy was waiting for an ice cream truck in his San Antonio neighborhood.
“Texting is the king of distraction,” Beaman Floyd, executive director of the Texas Coalition for Affordable Insurance Solutions, told the committee.
“It is time to change the culture that considers it acceptable to use electronic devices while behind the wheel,” Floyd said.
The Texas Medical Association (TMA) registered support for the bill in a written statement, saying HB 80 “will help reduce costly and preventable injury and make our roads safer for all Texans.”
More than 95,000 crashes and 460 deaths in Texas were attributed to distracted driving in 2013, TMA reported.
At present, 44 states prohibit texting while driving, and 38 Texas cities have local bans on the practice.
In 2011, Craddick won approval of legislation that would have banned drivers from reading, writing, or sending text messages or emails while driving. A texting while driving ban would save lives.
However, then-Gov. Rick Perry (R) vetoed the legislation, saying he considered it “a government effort to micromanage the behavior of adults.”
The governor noted that state law already prohibited drivers under 18 years old from texting or using a cell phone while driving.
Craddick announced he would try again in 2013, and his bill (HB 63) passed The House of Representatives but died in the Senate Transportation Committee.
Prior to this year’s legislative session, a spokesman for Gov.-elect Greg Abbott (R) said that Abbott supported laws “already in place that prohibit cell phone use by young drivers and in school zones,” but opposed “additional government mandates” on adult driving behavior.
By Bill Kidd, Austin Correspondent